By Grace Alone at God’s Expense

Posted on April 22, 2011


I am nearly finished with the short work of Sinclair Ferguson titled, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me.  The inspiration for the book came from the beautiful hymn written in 1946 by an African pastor, Emmanuel T. Sibomana, titled “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me.”  Christians can take the grace of God for granted, often forgetting exactly how costly the price of grace was for sinners.  When we realize just how costly it was for Christ to purchase His sheep for which He died, understanding that God created the heavens and the earth to display His glory and humans to bestow the immeasurable riches of His mercy and grace, we can rest and stand in awe of the wonder and beauty that is in Christ.

The following excerpts are from chapter 3, At God’s Expense, and I thought they were fitting and timely for a Good Friday article.  The most amazing part of what today represents is that Christ could have saved Himself from the bloody cross. He could have called forth the armies of heaven to crush His enemies.  He could have escaped the torment of that cross, but He didn’t, and He sustained the furious wrath and devastating punishment from God, His own Father.  He refrained from doing any of these things for one reason alone:  in order for Christ to save sinners, He could not save Himself. There is no greater love than this!

I highly recommend Sinclair Ferguson’s book, which can be found at a reasonable price at the Ligonier Store.

At God’s Expense

“O How the Grace of God Amazes Me” takes us, step by step, through various dimensions of God’s saving grace. The third verse brings us to the theme of this chapter – salvation was costly to God. E.T Sibomama writes:

Jesus, God’s Son,
Suffered on Calvary’s tree -
Crucified with thieves was he -
Great was his grace to me,
His wayward one.

Into Loneliness

…The whole story of Jesus’ passion, His arrest, His trial, His suffering, and His public execution is one of appalling loneliness and isolation voluntarily experienced in order to restore us to fellowship with God.

After the meal in the upper room, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsamane. There He sought consolation from His Father and encouragement from His disciples.  He took Peter, James, and John (His “inner circle”) and separated them from the others in the group.  Then He isloated Himself even from them, and was entirely on His own.

In the hours that followed, this movement into isolation continued and intensified.  He was further separated from His disciples, friends, and family members – although they came, bravely, to be with Him at His execution.  This was surely the hour the aged Simeon foresaw when he said to the young Mary, “a sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

From His arrest until He was helped to carry His cross by Simon of Cyrene, Jesus had no close contact with human help – indeed, His one sighting of Simon Peter was when curses rang out from the disciple’s lips (Matt. 26:74; Luke 22:61).  Did Jesus also feel a sword piercing His soul as He heard the words, “I do not know the Man!” Only at Golgotha did He have further contact with those who had known Him best and loved Him most.

But there was much more – and much worse.  Jesus felt Himself to be abandoned by God and cried out on the cross:  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46)…

The Christ

…Jesus is the Christ:  He fulfills all three of these roles [prophet, priest, and king].  The ultimate role of the prophets, priests, and kings was not merely to minister to their contemporaries but to point them forward to Christ – who Himself would be the very Word of God, who would offer the ultimate sacrifice that would take away sin, namely Himself, and who would be the Monarch whose kingdom would never end.

Such a person had been promised in the Old Testament – a prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15-19), a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4), a king who would reign forever as the Son of David (Ps. 2:6).  Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ…

…Contrary to what those who wanted to destroy Jesus thought they were doing, they were themselves caught up in the purposes of God to bring salvation to sinners through His Son (Acts 2:23).

Before their blinded eyes, Jesus was fulfilling His messianic ministry.

Prophet, Priest, and King

Notice how all of this emerges.  The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating Him.  They blindfolded Him and demanded:  “Prophesy!  Who is the one who struck you?” (Luke 22:64).  They played with Jesus:  “Prophet! Prophet!  If you are a prophet, prophesy!”

Then, as Jesus’ passion progressed, Herod and his soldiers also ridiculed and mocked Him.  They dressed Him in elegant, regal robe, then sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:6-12).  It was as if they were saying, “If you are a king, you should be dressed like a king.”

Then, as people sneered at Him and mocked Him during His crucifixion, one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus said, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us” (Luke 23:29).

That was the specific task of the high priest.  That was his unique and supreme ministry on Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement.  He made sacrifices for the forgiveness of his own sins and then took sacrificial blood into the Holy of Holies – the holiest place of all, so sacred that it was entered only once a year, and then by only one man.  On that sacred day, he would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal on the symbolic throne of God on earth and pray for the forgiveness of the people.  He entered the presence of God that day to “save others,” endangering his own life as he did so (Ex. 28:35).

So when the dying thief turned to Jesus and said, “If you are the Christ, then be the Great High Priest – save Yourself and others,” he did not realize that saving others was precisely what Jesus was doing.  To do that, He had to lose His own life.

They mocked Him as though He were not a true prophet.  But soon Jesus would turn to the dying thief who said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).  He would speak to him with the majesty and authority of the final and true Prophet:  “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

That dying thief saw something that nobody else had eyes to see.  He saw that Jesus was the King, and that His kingdom would extend beyond the death of both of them.

He was indeed the Christ.

In the last hours of Jesus’ life, the whole land became dark.  The Gospel writers simply note the fact without comment or explanation.  The event may have reminded them of more than one significant event in the past.  One of them surely would have been the Day of Atonement, when the high priest moved from the outer courts of the temple into the darkness of the hidden, inner room of the Holy of Holies in order to sacrifice and pray for the people.  In that hidden room, the sun never shone.  The great sacrifice was offered to God far from prying eyes.

On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the whole land was turned into the Holy of Holies where Jesus the High Priest made not the annual but the final sacrifice for sins.  The symbolism was fulfilled in the reality.  Thus, the symbol itself was no longer needed.  The great curtain in the temple was suddenly torn in two – from the top to the bottom (Luke 22:45).  The way to God was now open.  God Himself deconsecrated the temple in this dramatic way.

Jesus really was the High Priest.  All earlier high priests were mere pictures, actors in a lengthy drama communicating a message to those who watched, pointing forward to the One who was to come and revealing Him to those who had eyes to see.  Jesus Himself was the reality.  Unlike the earlier sacrificial dramas, this time the High Priest went into the immediate presence of God.  On the altar of Calvary, He shed His own blood.  Because His was the real sacrifice, God confirmed that it was acceptable to Him by desecrating the temple from heaven.  It was as if He were saying “This is not needed any longer.”  He destroyed the old order. It had served its purpose.

At the Cross

…Crucifixion was a horrible death.  It was a slow death.  Men eventually died by asphyxiation.  As they weakened, they could no longer raise their bodies sufficiently to make breathing possible.  Yet we read of Jesus crying out with a loud voice (Luke 23:46).  Was this only a great final effort on His part?

In addition, Jesus appears to have died long before He was expected to (John 19:31:33).  Is Luke drawing our attention to the fact that Jesus chose the moment of His death – that, in a special sense, He died deliberately, sovereignly, and actively?  It seems He chose the moment with regal authority, calling out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:35).  Then He bowed His kingly head and breathed His last.

In Luke’s account of the crucifixion, it is fascinating to notice the frequency with which the word save is used. “He saved others; let Him save Himself” (Luke 23:35).  “Save Yourself (Luke 23:36).  “Save Yourself and us” (Luke 23:39).

…At the cross, the word that was most frequently on peoples’ lips, even in abusive statements, was the key to everything that was happening.  The One who was being despised as Prophet, as Priest, and as King actually was God’s Prophet, Priest, and King – the Christ, the Savior.  He was actually doing what they were cynically calling out for Him to do.  They, however, spoke in ignorance; they did not understand that if He was to save others, He could not save Himself.

Here, then, is the mystery of the cross, its whole secret…

Blasphemy and Treason

…The two charges leveled against Jesus were blasphemy (that He had made Himself equal with God) and treason (that He had rejected lawfully constituted authority).

Why were those two charges so significant?  It was because these are the charges each of us faces before the judgment seat of God.

In that court, I am guilty of blasphemy, because I have made myself rather than God the center of the universe.

I am also guilty of treason, since I have sought to overturn His lawfully and graciously constituted authority over my life.

Blasphemy and treason were also the crimes of Adam.  These are the age-old crimes of which every one of us – old and young, rich and poor, wise and simple, famous and infamous – stands accused.  We are on the same charge sheet.  We are all guilty.

But Jesus has come!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

How well this is expressed in Christopher Idle’s words:

He stood before the court,
On trial instead of us;
He met its power to hurt,
Condemned to face the cross.
Our King, accused of treachery;
Our God, abused for blasphemy!

Jesus came and suffered all this to take our place, to bear our judgment, to deal with our sin, and to save us.

All this we see in the intricate weaving of Luke’s tapestry portraying Jesus’ passion.  The central motif is now clear:  Jesus Christ died for sinners, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

The meaning of the cross is this:  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

He took my place.  I take His grace.  He becomes my Savior.

Is that true for you?

Not for my righteousness,
For I have none,
But for his mercy’s sake,
Jesus, God’s Son,
Suffered on Calvary’s tree -
Crucified with thieves was he -

Are you able to sing?

Great was his grace to me,
His wayward one.

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Posted in: Doctrine, The Gospel